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This is not your father’s injection molding company

TAGS: Medical
Sarah Warren of Mack Molding
“The days of just having good tooling engineers who were jack-of-all-trades people are over. Now we require people who are much more specialized and operate in a lot of different niches,” said Jeff Somple, President of Mack Molding.

As the custom molding business has evolved over the past two decades with increasing competition from companies both at home and abroad, small companies have become larger and their use of manufacturing technology has expanded, which means that their personnel needs have also undergone a transformation. Today’s injection molding plants require a range of trained experts that were not in the mix 30 years ago. 

Sarah Warren, Mack Molding Finishing Operator, is a graduate of Mack U.

Manufacturing today is a challenging environment for recruitment. To provide a solution, Mack Molding, an Arlington, VT–based molding and contract manufacturing company, developed an internal core competency training program to help it keep pace with the increasing technical needs of customers. Called Mack U, the program looks within Mack’s own team for excellence, tapping into the expertise of veteran Mack employees to develop courses on topics like customer communication, electrostatic discharge (ESD) machining and wiring assemblies.

“During the past 18 months we have been looking at a 25% increase in staffing across our three Vermont facilities, including approximately 100 positions added last year and another 50 positions expected to be added in the year ahead,” said Headquarters Plant Manager Rich Hornby. “We developed Mack U to meet this demand and our efforts have been recognized by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Economic Development, which met our commitment through a Vermont Training Program Grant earlier this year.”  

Founded in 1920, Mack Molding specializes in plastics design, prototyping, molding, sheet metal fabrication, full-service machining and medical device manufacturing. It is part of the privately owned Mack Group, which operates 11 facilities throughout the world.

Jeff Somple, President of Mack Molding, told PlasticsToday in a telephone interview that when he came to the company in the late 1980s, Mack had tooling engineers, a process engineer on the molding side and that was it. “As we got into more sophisticated molding and secondary operations such as painting—which required a paint engineer—we needed to hire more personnel such as a quality engineer to set up quality systems,” Somple explained. 

Recent hires in those areas include Larry Henson, Paint Engineering Manager for the plant in Inman, SC. He is responsible for custom molded plastic components, as well as optimizing paint processes and applications. Also recently hired at the Inman plant is Danny Johnson, a molding process engineer with 35 years of tooling experience to help identify and correct manufacturing issues, as well as develop strong processes and procedures for the molding department. Douglas Moultrie has joined Mack’s Inman facility as a quality engineer responsible for addressing and resolving quality issues, and acting as a source of information regarding customer requirements, assisting quality engineering techs and quality analysts.

In 1990 Mack hired its first manufacturing engineer with the ability to take a molded part and develop fixturing for assembly to meet customers’ demand for more secondary operations such as assembly. “That was exciting,” Somple said. “That expanded to requiring an electrical engineer for our circuit board assembly and test facility. Then we got a huge finishing area, so we needed an industrial engineer to lay out the plant and select equipment.” Mack’s newest manufacturing engineer is Pia Dechamps, who works at the company’s headquarters and has an extensive background in sheet metal, manufacturing and machinery.

When Mack’s customers began requiring more involvement from the company in front-end services it began hiring design engineers. That led to the hiring of a material science engineer, Michael Hansen who has a PhD in materials. The hiring of a supplier engineer ensured that all the companies that supply Mack’s materials and components are qualified to Mack’s standards. One of Mack’s recent hires in that position is Dave Forrester, who is responsible for ensuring that Mack’s medical customers receive the highest quality parts.

Those hires were followed by a sheet metal engineer and a machine engineer, along with a robotics engineer as automation became a way to help with the labor shortage and reduce costs. Mack recently hired its first robotics engineer in the company’s Inman plant. 

“Today we have an entire world of technicians that include process techs, manufacturing techs, welders, CNC machining techs—it’s exploded on the technical side,” Somple said. “The days of just having good tooling engineers who were jack-of-all-trades people are over. Now we require people who are much more specialized and operate in a lot of different niches.”

Somple notes that currently the company has 90 engineers, some of whom are engineers by profession and others who are engineers by many years of experience. Mack currently has an internship program with 21 students, many of them majoring in different aspects of engineering including computer, mechanical, electrical and more. “We will have jobs for several of them when they complete the program,” he said. 

Former Mack intern Clayton Harrington recently returned to Mack headquarters as an associate tool engineer responsible for supporting new business activity with customer design reviews and design for manufacturing (DFM) analysis, as well as helping to develop and manage molds. 

“We are creating this base of young engineering talent who are familiar with Mack and what we do,” stated Somple. “Thirty years ago we molded parts and painted them—that’s what we did. Today we’re making robots, doing 3D printing and contract manufacturing work that spans numerous capabilities. We even have a compliance officer on staff to ensure FDA regulatory compliance.”

Program management is also a critical position for Mack, as OEMs award larger programs of multiple molds to the company. Recently, Travis Pettengill, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, joined Mack as a program manager with the headquarters’ sales and engineering team.

As molders expand operations and go after new business in new markets, personnel and capability requirements often change to meet the demands of these new customers. Asked whether molders should hire the required people first, then go for the work, Somple said that for Mack it was a “kind of a leap of faith.” For example, Somple explained that no one will give you medical work before you have all the personnel and regulatory requirements in place. “To get medical companies to take us seriously, we hired the people then got the work. When you start selling into the medical space it takes so long to develop into a profitable segment that you have do the hiring in advance of the revenue. But that’s true with a lot of industry segments. Remember, we’re dealing with customers who are a lot savvier about our industry, an educated group of people.

“Having the right people in the right place in order to build robustness into the mold design, build and molding processes is necessary to be successful,” he added.  

Somple admits that the people needed in today’s injection molding/contract manufacturing plant means a lot of overhead. However, on the positive side, all the engineers, technicians and others ultimately pay for themselves. “Any company—not just Mack—that’s been around for 30 years and expects to grow and be competitive needs these types of personnel,” said Somple. “For us, it’s been a wonderful ride.”

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